Bertie Ahern claims he has no questions to answer.. but the PDs are meeting today to talk about it anyway. And with Bertie being grilled at the manifesto launch, not to mention the other details in the Irish Times today, including what Bertie refers to as a “difference of views” about some of the earlier ‘dig-outs’, there’s a lot for Michael McDowell to reflect on. [inappropriate and imprudent, again? – Ed]
Earlier, at a PD press conference on health, Mr McDowell said he would have to “reflect” before deciding on whether he would need extra clarification from Mr Ahern in advance of signing up to any post-election coalition with Fianna Fáil. “There is material now coming into the public domain that changes the position. I believe that there are a number of things on which I would want to reflect. I don’t want to say more than that at this stage,” he said.
The discussion analysed the import of information relating to the purchase of Mr Ahern’s home. It was agreed that the new information is highly significant.
The tribunal was also told that in 2005 Mr O’Connor was asked by Mr Richardson to recall the details of the payment, and again in 2006. On both occasions he told Mr Richardson that the donation was an NCB rather than a personal contribution.
Last October, Mr Ahern told RTÉ and the Dáil that the payment was a personal contribution from Mr O’Connor and that like other payments from Irish friends at the time, he had accepted it on the basis that it was a loan.
Later last year he said he had repaid the loans to all his friends, along with interest.
Mr O’Connor has informed the tribunal that, despite his comments to Mr Richardson in 2005 and 2006, he had received an unsolicited cheque from Mr Ahern purporting to be the return of the £5,000 plus interest. He said he did not cash the cheque.
Mr Ahern said he had regular contact with Mr O’Connor in 1993 as he was providing advice to him in his role as minister for finance.
Mr Ahern said that when NCB gave donations to the party, the cheques were made directly to Fianna Fáil. The £5,000 payment was not made in such a manner and Mr Ahern said he believed it was self-evident that the payment was not intended for the party.
Mr Ahern was also told that Mr O’Connor would take issue with Mr Ahern’s description of him as a close personal friend. Mr Ahern said Mr O’Connor may not be as close to him as others who had given him money, but he would have still considered him a close enough friend.
Mr Ahern said he did not think Mr Richardson had told him of what Mr O’Connor had said in 2005 and 2006. Up to autumn of last year he believed the money had been a personal contribution to him from Mr O’Connor.
Inquiries by the tribunal discovered that in fact NCB wrote a cheque to Euro Workforce Ltd for £6,050 in December 1993, a company for which Mr Richardson has on occasion worked as a consultant. The NCB accounts record the payment as £5,000 plus VAT, for a health and safety survey. Mr O’Connor has said the survey was never carried out.
The tribunal has also established that the cheque was not cashed until April 1994 and so could not have formed part of the December 1993 payment to Mr Ahern. Mr Ahern said the £5,000 was received by him in the form of a bank draft made out to Mr Richardson.
The Irish Times received a letter from the Mahon tribunal last evening “to request” this newspaper to “desist from publishing” reference to information obtained from the unauthorised disclosure of documents necessarily circulated to a number of parties. The request was made in “the interest of the constitutional rights of all individuals affected by such premature disclosure”.
This newspaper has investigated the Taoiseach’s finances because it has an equal constitutional duty to serve the public’s right to know about its leaders, especially during an election campaign. Are we now to be silenced?
This can’t but be an issue in the campaign.Whether it is a deciding issue or not in the general election remains to be seen.
Also worth noting are a couple of scenes from Miriam Lord’s piece accompanying Bertie on the campaign trail..
An elderly man on two crutches barred his way into a chemist shop. “I’ve two artificial hips. Would you ever do something? I’m knackered.”
As he spoke, Bertie gently kept a hand on his wrist. “How’s the hips. Are they paining you?” And with that, as the man started to move, the Taoiseach and Minister Noel Dempsey placed solicitous hands on each arm and helped him down the step.”
You do what you have to do at election time. With the politicians inside, the man waved a crutch in air and wheezed: “I’m in the limelight for the first time in my life. Now f*** off, the lot of yis.”
Bertie hared across the road and found himself outside the Bank of Ireland. He went in the main entrance, stopped at the inner doors, thought to himself and turned on his heels.
“Ah, we’ll let them alone in the bank,” he announced breezily, as a passer-by muttered something about opening another account.
In Longford, there was a man playing the fiddle on the street. Like lightning, Bertie’s tour manager ran ahead, and stood between him and the Taoiseach and the photographers.
No chance of a photograph appearing with the words “Bertie” and “fiddle” in the caption.